Leaving Islam – the greatest jihad?

Silhouette of a shrouded women through the doorway of a Turkish mosque

The news is full of muslim converts striking out for Syria to answer the IS call to jihad, but what about those who no longer feel connected to Islam?

In a religion inconsistent with science, logic, human rights and ethics, one so riddled with contradiction it offers equal endorsement of opposing arguments, rational-minded individuals must be leaving Islam in droves.

Aren’t they?


Summer is a speck in the rearview mirror and Autumn is well underway. The metamorphosis outside echoes my internal state of flux. Tremulously yet inexorably, as a compass needle seeks true North, my worldview is re-orienting and an unexpected casualty in this stripping away of superfluity is my faith. It’s been a slow creeping process, this revolution of mine – seasonal in its pace and just as imperceptible. But I can see now it’s been building for a while.



When I first converted Muslims viewed me either as ‘extra special’, sprinkling me with ‘Mashallah’s’ like confetti, or conversely, appraised me with closed faces and narrowed eyes that judged me inferior because I was a westerner, a product of kuffar, not to be trusted.

Woodcut style expressionist image of a crying woman in a hijab.
Image courtesy of shutterstock.com

Other white converts I met seemed to have gone full-musulmán with their uniform of stiff wiry beard, artfully wrapped headscarf and speech peppered with English accented Islamic expressions – this I thought was more suspect.

Despite having done my research I was dismayed to find practical Islam didn’t quite reflect the theory. In Islamic bookshops I found books that made me queasy with their advice to avoid contact with non-muslims, their archaic outlines of the duties of a wife to her husband: seeking permission for everything, never calling him by name, never refusing his desires in bed.

I tried to swallow my reservations and remain objective but every time I thought I had resolved one misgiving another sprang up in its place in a perverse muslim version of Whack-A-Mole. I fought to keep an open mind and was conscious that a blurring of the line between culture and religion accounted for much of what unsettled me. Unfortunately, more often than not, reciprocal tolerance from my new ‘brothers and sisters’ was conspicuous by its absence.


When my in-laws finally turned on me after seven years of ill-disguised resentment, I began to see hypocrisy and contradiction everywhere in Islam but still I shut these doubts down; telling myself I was letting subjectivity taint my perspective, that I lacked strength of belief, that this was a failure on my part.

In an attempt to rekindle the sputtering flame and extinguish the doubts I immersed myself, not only in practical information regarding Islam, but in memoirs and biographies of converts, and the classical Islamic literature of Rumi and Khayyam, trying to recapture the light that drew me over twelve years ago.

The initial source of that light of course was the man who is now my husband. It was my desire to attain the quiet confidence and self-assurance with which he moved through the world that, when asked, he attributed to his faith. In retrospect I see his poise was simply a character trait, as likely present in a mail-man as a muslim.

But hindsight, in its undeniable capacity for self-flagellation, is as useless as it is merciless. We are each responsible for moving through life on a path of our choosing, and for finding a better one if the first is unsatisfactory. Changing mistakes or wrongs that have gone before would fundamentally change who we are, and whether or not that would be a good thing, I believe, is impossible to predict.

So I take my past experiences and try to regret nothing.



I immersed myself a second time in all things Islamic but this time different aspects jumped out at me and it was evident my trajectory had changed – though still looking for reasons to believe, I was now coming from a critic’s point of view, not from the perspective of one whose heart was already sold. This time I needed convincing not corroboration…


Next week: My quest to rekindle my faith has an unexpected outcome… Leaving Islam – irreconcilable differences


green sign with the word islamic state in arabic and english language standing in the white sand of the desert.
Image courtesy of shutterstock.com



By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Leaving the blog open like that isn’t very fair! Not sure if I can wait a week to find out the answer…can you give us a hint? 🙂

    1. I love your enthusiasm Sean, but once I started transferring the tangle in my head to paper it just kept coming – there was way too much to cover in one post. I hope you’ll come back next week 😉

  2. Please, try not to have regrets, however your path takes you Aisha… That “blurring of the line” is something I’ve always wondered about. I look forward to hearing more…

  3. It sounds as though you’re giving this journey an awful lot of though and deliberation.About the only way you CAN grapple such a huge issue as this, I suspect.

  4. Great post, really well written. I could write similar about Christianity although it is on the whole a less globally violent and destructive religion than Islam there are plenty of misguided fundamentalists. Organised religion has a lot to answer for in society, and is more often than not full of bigotry and toxic patriarchy, not to mention the arrogance. I will follow your posts with interest!

  5. Some real food for thought, my father is Islamic but after my parents divorced I was baptised Catholic – have always wondered if I would have been comfortable with being Islamic, especially when some teachings (like you said) make me uneasy.

  6. Fabulous post, Aisha. Oddly similar to my experience with Christianity. My UU church has been a tremendous blessing for me (and my family). Deconstructing our faith is scary and difficult, but a wise author (sadly, I don’t remember which one!) said, deconstruction is not destruction. I look forward to your future posts to see where your deconstruction and hopefully, reconstruction, take you.

    1. Thank you Emma – it’s personal, yet universal. I’m not the only one with these thoughts and questions, and although it’s scary to lay bare my naivety and confusion in this way it’s important to be able to talk about this stuff.

  7. why white western christians converting to islam?
    let me tell you what is the REAL reason so many white western christians converting to islam

    1) trinity makes no sense

    2) christians turned to atheism or agnosticism

    3) without religion they enjoy materialism and sex with multiple partners

    4) bored with materialism and sex

    5) became depressed

    6) want to go back to religion for peace of mind

    7) christianity makes NO sense

    8) search all other religions except islam

    9) then studies islam

    10) found answer to their life long questions

    11) bow down to allah 

    holy trinity

    god the FATHER, god the SON, god the holy spirit

    whats makes FATHER and SON a male?

    do they have male GENITALIA ?

    if god the son dont have penis god does not have son

      1. Islam , like other religions requires you to have FAITH. Meaning blindly submitting yourself to a higher power whose decisions you may not like but trust anyway, thats submission. If you dont have faith, no religion will suit you.
        And chin up, this is not criticism, you were never a muslim in the first place, with the drinkin etc, so my question is why bother now?…

        1. If God created your capacity for intelligent reasoning why would he demand you suspend it? Didn’t the prophet advise you should always tie your camel and not leave everything to Allah? All this obfuscation is what allows people (not God) to plug the gaping holes with ‘fluff’ they call faith, usually at the cost of human dignity and compassion.
          And you’re right, your final line is not a criticism, it’s a perfect example of the naked judgement and condescension I experienced from other ‘muslims’.

  8. Do u plan on changing your name?I’ve read some of the older posts on women and religion and they sent a chill down my spine, probably unintentionally-the absolutism of your views,the heathen/pagan vs. religion view, and the notion of the other.Peace.

  9. “a religion inconsistent with science, logic, human rights and ethics, one so riddled with contradiction” <<< Exactly why I left Islam at the age of 16 (32 now). To be more accurate I left Islam after I found it to be incompatible with my stance on human rights and ethics, the science and logic part came later after I realised I used to believe in nothing more than violent tales due to being indoctrinated to do so by my parents (who were in turn indoctrinated by their parents and so on).

    Ironically I left Islam after I wanted to get to get a better understanding of it and to arm myself with Islamic knowledge so I could be a better Muslim.

  10. I think we are all plagued with doubts about our faith, whatever it may be, from time to time. I do hope you find peace with yourself, whatever path you choose to follow.

  11. A very good and well written piece and it is of course right and important that we should be free to sort out our own thoughts and beliefs .

  12. I am not great writer but i will share my point of view, Islam is great religion but problem with Muslims is that they aren’t doing what the prophet (pbuh) used to do. There are many rights of a woman on her husband but this male dominant world in almost every culture are sexist in some way or another.
    Also, I have noticed this thing that Muslims are focusing on exterior part of Islam, I mean how do they want to look more like Muslim by dressing up more like a Muslim. forgetting the fact that we have a lot more to do to be a good Muslim or Momin, true believer of Islam in faith and in action.

    1. Emaan I respect your right to believe anything. I also used to believe the problem is Muslims not practicing Islam the way Mohammed practiced it until after I read Sirat rasullah by Ibn ishaq. This biography of Mohammed by a devout Muslim opened the gate for me to leave Islam. I believe we are lucky Muslims don’t copy muhammad, if they did what’s happening today would be a child’s play.
      Sorry for being harsh but that’s my conclusion after decades of being a born Muslim.
      Have a nice day.

  13. I don’t know much about Islam, but from your description it sounds like the problem is somewhat similar to why rational people (often) reject Christianity. Jesus’ core message and teachings make fantastic sense, but what comes out of the real life end of the cultural processing machinery, and what it is used for, is very different… in some cases even perversely contrary… to the original, essentially humanist Gospel advocated by Jesus. Then add how difficult/impossible it is to reconcile The Old Testament with Jesus’ teachings without twisting and bending its passages to beyond recognition, and the bizarre and obvious cognitive dissonance that logically insiders must live with to keep all the contradictions under the carpet (Christian whack-a-mole, I suppose;-), and there you go… Jesus lost another friend…

  14. Religions exploit the inscurity in us and the need to bind to a community to have a social base and Islam is the worst of them as it subjugates its followers completely.

  15. I think the petitionary prayer is a psychological disorder in hindsight.You have conversation with your imagined God&you play both parts.”The God” is all the do/do not conditioning we get from parents/authority figures like priests etc that coalesce into this two&fro internal dialogue.FAITH etc is nonsense.I found petitionary prayers ridiculous early on in my life and turn to atheism.In my (Hindu) cultural context,that is perfectly valid&part of unorthodox philosophy so remained a cultural Hindu minus prayers/riturals etc.Later when depression/anxiety etc struck had to revisit the status to “agnostic”.Now I am into yoga,meditation and mindfulness.There is a three part book called “Conversation with God” by Neale Donald Walsch.That will perhaps help you through your post-religious phase.

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